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Something again on Spurrier


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I find it interesting how the whole NFL's been affected by the short venture of Steve Spurrier in Washington.

Another thing I think is funny, that every columnist even from as far as West cost should give a shot at "impossible meddler" owner. Did Snyder told him to throw 40 times a game or Snyder told linemen to jump offside. Or because Snyder cut his favorite QB which had no business playing in NFL in a first place.




Why old college try doesn't work in pros

Except for the Raiders, marching to their own beat as usual, the NFL's coach-hiring season is over. The scorecard is: three former NFL head coaches, two defensive coordinators, one offensive coordinator -- and not a single college coach.

Steve Spurrier did not ruin things for college coaches trying to jump to the pros, but he certainly did not help. The only college coach seriously pursued in this round of hirings was LSU's Nick Saban, and his resume includes four years working for Bill Belichick at Cleveland.

Football is football, but Spurrier's wretched work at Washington, after coaching a dominant team at the University of Florida, showed the NFL is really a different game.

Spurrier never adapted.

He got caught up in an exhibition game when the Redskins crushed the 49ers in Japan 38-7 before the 2002 season. He believed that meant something, when it did not; the Redskins did not win another game as handily during Spurrier's tenure.

He never adapted his fun-and-gun offense to the NFL. He wasn't interested in learning the league, and he did not want to work the long hours required of an NFL head coach. He paid no attention to the defense or, often, to the opponent. He gave the running game only lip service -- and that, in part, explains why Stephen Davis was able to help Carolina reach the Super Bowl.

But Spurrier is not alone in failure.

While many college coaches with previous NFL experience as an assistant - - such as Bill Walsh, Dennis Green, Bobby Ross and Steve Mariucci -- have prospered, few have made the transition successfully without first spending time in the league as an assistant coach.

Jimmy Johnson was a rare exception, coaching Dallas to two Super Bowl titles. Spurrier is more typical, adding his name to a list that includes Lou Holtz, Bud Wilkinson, Frank Kush, Tommy Prothro, Darryl Rogers and many others, highly successful college coaches who came into the NFL and flopped.

Dennis Erickson, the 49ers' coach, had no experience in the NFL when he was hired for his first pro job, coaching the Seattle Seahawks from 1995-98. He has admitted there was a steep learning curve.

"There are things in college you can not get away with in this league," Erickson said.

Green agreed, specifically mentioning pass protection and the passing game, Spurrier's specialty. Spurrier had to "reduce his offense" in the NFL, Green said, adding, "I don't think he was as pleased with the product he was putting out there, because he couldn't throw it as much as he wanted to."

What happened to Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison in the AFC Championship Game is not likely to happen in college, simply because good passers rarely face a shutdown corner.

"You don't go up against as many talented players," Green said.

Also, Erickson said, there are more variations of defensive formations in the NFL than in college, more nickel and dime packages, more schemes for which coaches must prepare.

"It's a different game as far as coaching and studying," Erickson said. "In this league, the coaching is unbelievable, the strategy, the things you see, and with players being equal, it's a lot different -- especially when you come from a program where you've been very successful. That's what happened to me when I came in from Miami."

At top college programs, such as Erickson had at Miami or Spurrier at Florida, the teams have so much talent that they rarely have to play their best to win. They win seven or eight games a year just by showing up. That does not happen in the NFL, where there is no Vanderbilt. On the final weekend of the season, a 4-11 Detroit team knocked St. Louis out of home-field advantage in the NFC, and 3-12 Arizona knocked Minnesota out of the playoffs.

In the NFL, the margin for error is much smaller than at the college powers.

"When I was at Miami, we could turn it over four or five times, but we were so good on defense, we could get the ball back," Erickson said. "Here, you better not do that, or you're going to get your (rear end) beat."

Holtz failed to survive a full season with the Jets. Wilkinson, a legendary coach at Oklahoma, where he won a record 47 consecutive games, started 0-8 with the Cardinals and was 3-10 in his second year when he was fired. Kush has a field named for him at Arizona State, but won only 11 games in three seasons with the Colts.

And so it goes.

"When guys come into the league without any experience in the NFL, they don't have any chance to learn," Green said. "It's like learning to ride a bike with training wheels. That's what happens to an assistant coach who gets a head-coaching job. But if you come in there without having been (in the league), you start without any training wheels at all. I think that was the difficulty Spurrier had. He never seemed to get comfortable with the NFL."

Even Johnson started with a 1-15 record in his first year with the Cowboys. He was rescued by Mike Lynn, the Minnesota general manager, who traded a zillion draft choices for Herschel Walker, and by his friendship at the time with owner Jerry Jones.

"When you're 1-15, very few guys can get another chance," Green said.

In Spurrier's case, of course, there were difficulties beyond his lack of NFL coaching knowledge. Club owner Dan Snyder is an impossible meddler, and player personnel chief Vinny Cerrato is not exactly a savant when it comes to finding talent.

As Walsh points out, the NFL game is faster, decisions must be made quicker, competition, as mentioned, is more severe -- and there are fewer plays in a game, so each one becomes more important. NFL teams get about 60 offensive plays a game. College teams, because of the rules that stop the clock on every first down, frequently get 80 or 90.

"The typical college coaches, almost by the numbers, you recruit 25 (players) a year, and in they come, and you don't think of individual players nearly as much as you do in the pros, which is much more exacting," Walsh said.

"Most college coaches will come in and think their motivational speeches will make a difference, and in reality, the players will play because they believe in each other, and you taught them the skills."

Some coaches also are simply better suited to be a head coach in college than in the NFL. Pete Carroll's enthusiasm was great when he was an NFL defensive coordinator; players loved playing for him. That style did not work as well as a head coach in the pros, but it is just right in college.

If Carroll remains at USC and Saban at LSU, they might someday have statues built in their likeness. They already have built a statue at Penn State for Joe Paterno, who turned down several NFL job offers when he was younger. While there is some speculation Spurrier will try another shot at the NFL, the more likely scenario is he'll be coaching in college again a year from now.

"I don't blame Spurrier for resigning at all," Walsh said. "Why go through that? There aren't bowl games that you go to at the end of the year. There's a Super Bowl. And so the year is either going to be a success or failure based on that. In college, you can be 8-3, have a good bowl game and feel good about the season. But in pro football, 13-3 like (Kansas City's) Dick Vermeil isn't good enough if you lose in the playoffs."

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